- Associated Press - Saturday, May 17, 2014

PITTSBURGH (AP) - The house’s exterior gives nothing away.

From the sidewalk, 1812 Rialto St. looks like many other Pittsburgh homes: Yellow brick exterior, two stories with an attic, wide porch and white picket fence. The front window displays an American flag.

Then the front door slowly swings open. A bell tolls and visitors step into a dreamscape.

“Like going through ‘The Looking Glass,’ ” said Holly Coleman, 36, who has visited Pittsburgh’s first art house three times since its October opening. “You feel like a kid again. I absolutely love the feeling of it being an adventure, a secret adventure you never would know existed because it looks just like a normal little house.”

It is anything but normal.

The little house in Pittsburgh’s Troy Hill neighborhood is blight transformed into art.

“La Hütte Royal” is the work of German artist Thorsten Brinkmann, who spent parts of two years recasting the once vacant house.

“I like the idea that you can create a new location for the viewer, that he gets that feeling of being somewhere else as soon as he enters,” Brinkmann told the Tribune-Review in an email from Hamburg. “With La Hütte Royal, it is really the case, that as soon as you go into the house it starts, and as soon as you go farther up or down you are losing your original feeling of where you are. … You don*t know anymore that you are actually on Rialto Street.”

A 9-foot bell hanging in the entry hall greets visitors. They sidle past into the living room, where Brinkmann covered walls with old album jackets he found in the house.

“The house was full with stuff that people left there,” Brinkmann explained. “It was a really rough atmosphere.”

That’s why Evan Mirapaul bought the house in 2011. An art adviser and “recovering professional violinist,” Mirapaul moved to Troy Hill in 2010 after 11 years in Manhattan. He immediately took an interest in nearby homes that others chose to ignore.

“As in many neighborhoods in Pittsburgh and other transforming cities, there are structures that people want to renovate or gentrify, and there are structures that people don’t,” Mirapaul said. “In my neighborhood, I’m not worried about the homes people want to renovate.”

Inspired by the Art House Project on Naoshimi Island in Japan - where artists use abandoned homes as an unorthodox canvas for large art installations - Mirapaul bought the building from the city for $9,000, brought it up to code, and called Brinkmann.

He created a beguiling series of dimly lit rooms, tiny hallways, secret crawlspaces and otherworldly quarters that provoke a sense of childlike wonder.

“Art always give you some sort of a feeling,” Councilwoman Darlene Harris said as she presented a proclamation to Mirapaul to honor La Hütte Royal. “When I was in the house, I sort of felt like … like I was back in the ‘50s. It was so wonderful.”

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